Art staycations: Edinburgh

Updated 20 February 2020

The National Art Pass is your passport to great art all over the UK. Here's just some of what's on offer in and around Edinburgh.

Whether you love sprawling national museums or cool independent galleries, cutting-edge art festivals or historic stately homes, Edinburgh boasts a vibrant cultural scene. Here's how to spend your staycation in and around the city.

Day One

Kirkcaldy Galleries

Free to all

Start your trip in the town of Kirkcaldy, just to the north of the capital. The galleries house an award-winning local history display and an important collection of Scottish art, including over 100 ArtFunded works. Highlights include romantic landscapes and seascapes by William McTaggart and the Glasgow Boys, and vibrant portraits and paintings by the Scottish Colourists, such as Samuel John Peploe and George Leslie Hunter.

Contemporary artists – including Jack Vettriano – are also represented in this truly amazing collection.

Hopetoun House

25% off entry with National Art Pass

Situated on the outskirts of Edinburgh is Hopetoun Estate: 150 ares of rolling parkland, forest woodland and a deer park. The house itself has been the residence of the Earls of Hopetoun since 1699, and it is one of the finest examples of 18th-century architecture in Britain. Originally designed by William Bruce, William Adam began enlarging the property in 1721, adding colonnades to the facades and grand apartments for entertaining.

The opulent interiors, which have remained virtually unchanged for three centuries, reflect the aristocratic grandeur of the early Georgian era and feature Scottish carving, plasterwork, gilding and ceiling painting. Outdoor activities at Hopetoun include nature walks, archery, quad trekking and clay shooting.

Day Two

Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art

50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

Your visit begins before you even step inside; outdoor sculptures by Henry Moore, Rachel Whiteread and Barbara Hepworth scatter the extensive surrounding parkland, while even the landscaped lawns are a work of art – designed by theorist, critic and architect Charles Jencks.

Within the gallery walls are more than 5,000 20th-century works by the likes of Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Andy Warhol and Lucian Freud, as well as pieces by prominent contemporary artists such as Antony Gormley, Gilbert & George, Damien Hirst and Tracey Emin.

A second gallery, the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two, showcases the career of renowned Edinburgh-born artist Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, and holds an incredible trove of Dada and Surrealist art and literature.

Georgian House

Free entry with National Art Pass

Next up, No 7 Charlotte Square, also known as the Georgian House. Built in 1796 for John Lamont, 18th Chief of the Clan Lamont, it was architect Robert Adam's crowning glory, which he envisioned as a 'paradigm of the Georgian ideal in the centre of Edinburgh'. In the early 1970s, National Trust for Scotland restored the building to resemble a typical Edinburgh town house of the late 18th/early 19th century.

Featuring fine collections of china, silver, furniture and paintings – many with a Scottish/Edinburgh provenance – the house reveals what life was like for the Lamont family and their servants.

Day Three

National Museum of Scotland

50% off exhibitions with National Art Pass

Kick off day three with a trip to Scotland's incredible National Museum. Nominated for the Art Fund Prize for Museum of the Year 2012, its 36 galleries contain items from all over Scotland and beyond, including the taxidermy remains of Dolly the Sheep, Viking brooches, ancient chessmen and Queen Mary's clarsach.

In 2011 a £47m renovation saw 8,000 additional objects go on display – none of which had been exhibited before. The museum is vast, so it may be wise to pick one or two areas to explore in detail. Highlights include the Science and Technology Gallery, where you can explore space travel, genetics and robotics, and the Natural World Gallery, where you can see a life-sized casts of Tyrannosaurus rex and a giant squid.


Free entry with National Art Pass

Finish your trip at neo-Palladian villa, Newhailles, which lies just east of Edinburgh in Musselburgh. It was designed by James Smith in the late 1600s ​– Scotland's 'most experienced architect' of the time – yet financial difficulties forced him to sell the house just a decade after it was built. Sir David Dalrymple bought the property in 1709 and after adding a new library wing to hold his vast collection of books, Newhailles become known as an intellectual hub, with philosopher David Hume borrowing from its collection.

Later Dalrymple's son, Sir James, added the Great Apartment, commissioning splendid baroque decorations, such as ribbon and flower carvings by William Strachan. Miss Christian Dalrymple designed the landscape of the surrounding estate – including the creation of the flower garden.

The conservation policy at the house is to do 'as much as is necessary, but as little as possible', meaning the building is in good order but retains an untouched atmosphere. Newhailes also has its own art collection, with works by painters such as Allan Ramsay, Jean Baptiste de Medina and William Aikman, while the grounds hold an 18th-century tea house, a servants' entrance tunnel, a mysterious shell grotto and a pet cemetery where animals from the house were buried.

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